Visiting Elx and discovering palm trees

 

During our stay in Alicante we visited some surrounding cities, one of them was Elx or Elche. Via Santa Pola we took the bus to Elx.

Municipal Park Elx

Without a specific plan we walked to a major park close by. It turned out to be the Municipal Park, where I found the amphitheater, and in the rear a pigeon tower.

Amphitheater and Pigeon Tower in Elx
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After that we took a tour through the city by tourism miniature train. During this tour we found out what Elx is famous for: palm trees. During the Arabic reign of Spain these palm trees were imported. It is estimated that currently there are 200,000 to 300,000 palm trees in the area of Elx. It is really unique in Europe to have so many palm trees together. In November 2000, Elx was elected the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site.

Botanic garden Huerto del Cura in Elx
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Then we decided to continue our discovery of Elx by going to the botanic garden called Huerto del Cura (garden of the priest), located in the older parts of Elx. It is a relative small orchard, however, packed with many exclusive palm trees, cactus, and other plants. I took quite a few pictures there, which you can find below and here. Some of these pictures were taken in Manual mode, like the one below, because there was not enough light to work with Aperture mode, resulting in a slightly higher ISO.

Cactus in Huerto del Cura

During a break I also managed to take a picture of the Basilica of Elx. Although it was not the right time of the day because of the very bright sun coming from the right. I wanted to take a picture standing more on the left of the church, however, this was impossible because  of the overwhelming sun behind the tower. So, I had to settle for this one.

Basilica Saint Mary in Elx
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Late in the afternoon we had an excellent lunch in an Italian restaurant called Ristorante Gourmet. Looking back, Elx gave us a lot more than we expected. It is definitely worthwhile to visit.

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Strolling through the streets of Alicante

Harbour of Alicante in Spain
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Alicante is a nice Mediterranean port on the east coast of Spain. From The Santa Barbara Castle you have a nice view of the harbour and the city. Walking down from the castle you end up in a mesh of very narrow streets and squares, going up and down stairs. It is a beautiful part of the old city.

Calle San Rafael in Alicante
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It is a very colourful neighbourhood with lots of red, blue, and yellow. And, of course,  many plants. 

Blue in the streets of Alicante

It is wonderful to stroll through these colourful streets of Alicante and taste the history and the Arab influences (the palmtree is just an example). Enjoy the pictures of the streets of Alicante.

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Fallas in Valencia

Fallas Valencia 2018
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My wife told me to put Fallas in Valencia on my bucket list. So, this year we decided to participate in this festivity. The origin of the Fallas is the commemoration of Saint Joseph. The word Fallas both refers to the event and to the structures they build. The event  is really a community festivity for the whole family. 
Every day during Fallas at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento there is La Mascletà (video of La Mascletà). For five minutes there is an explosion of very loud sound; you can physically feel the vibrations going through  your body. To be close to the fireworks you have to be on time (at least one and a half hour in advance). 
Every neighbourhood builds it own Falla. So, walking through the city you will find many Fallas, which mostly consist of one main “doll” surrounded by many smaller ones, often expressing national or international political issues, for example, sources of fake news.

Sources of fake news

At the top of this post the Falla that had a very prominent position at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Below one that received a lot of prizes. 

Prize winning Falla

Another activity is the parade of Valencians dressed in folkloric costumes to take flowers to the Virgin Mary (video L’Ofrena de flors) at Plaza de la Reina. On the way going there we met this beautifully dressed lady being very proud to wear her folkloric costume.

Fallera

After sunset the streets near the Fallas are beautifully lighted, often with live music, places to have a drink or take a bite. 

Lights in the evening

After midnight the day ends with a spectacular fireworks. Fallas in Valencia is another check on my bucket list. 
Many more pictures and videos were taken with my iPhone X, except for the top one, this was taken with my Nikon D800.

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Santa Barbara Castle in Alicante

Downtown Alicante
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To celebrate my retirement as full professor at the university we decided to visit Alicante and Valencia. In this post I will focus on the view from Mount Benacantil and in the next ones on other parts of Alicante and its surrounding cities and on Valencia (Fallas!). Although not intended as a photography trip I selected 21 pictures which are all accepted by Dreamstime.
The first thing we did was to visit the Santa Barbara Castle. Originally founded by the Arabs, it was conquered by the Spanish on the feast of Saint Barbara. Explaining the name of the castle. It stands on the Mount Benacantil (166m) and from there you have a nice overview of Alicante and the beach. Above you see the colourful buildings in downtown Alicante in the neighbourhood of the Co-cathedral of Saint Nicolas of Bari (100mm).
Center of Alicante
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View on Cape de l`Horta in Alicante
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Above a much wider view of the center of Alicante and  its harbour and Cape de l’Horta on the north side of Alicante.
In an old fortress it is always nice to play with shapes. Here an example of a perspective of Cape de l’Horta through a small gate. It took some time before all tourists were out of sight. 
View on Cape de l`Horta in Alicante
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All pictures were taken with a Nikon D800 and the general-purpose zoomlens (28-300mm). Here you will find all 21 pictures of my Alicante trip accepted by Dreamstime. In processing the pictures I added quite a bit of vibrance and saturation. Because of the slightly clouded weather the pictures looked kind of bleak. 
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Rotterdam Central Station

The Dutch Railways realises that railway stations form an important part of the center of cities. I guess that is one of the reasons that the architecture of the railway stations is regarded as extremely important. Rotterdam Central Station is no exception. It was officially opened in March 2014. A year later I took this picture.

Central Station Rotterdam
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It is one of my best selling pictures, especially in 2015. The most recent sales was this week. Below the original picture, it was taken with my Nikkor 16-35mm lens (settings: 16mm, f/4, 1/400sec, ISO 100). Especially, the wide-angle setting gives the pointy shape of the building special attention. 
Rotterdam Central Station: original picture

As you can see, I did quite a bit of post-processing:

  • The diagonal roof line is an essential characteristic of the building, so I cropped the picture to map the roof line close to the diagonal line of the picture. It makes the picture a lot stronger. The additional advantage was that I got rid of the glass building on the right (it distracts).
  • As you can imagine, I took a lot of pictures of this building. In the end, I chose the one with the person in front. It gives depth and it leads your eyes to switch between the shape of the station and him.
  • Last, I made the picture more lively: blue sky and yellow in the building. Especially the diagonal roof lost its color because of various shadows. 

Also inside it is a nice building, definitely worthwhile to pay a visit.

Central Station Rotterdam
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Rotterdam is famous for its architectural innovations. Here you will find more pictures of Rotterdam and here a post about it. Enjoy!
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Sightseeing Xi'an (2)

If you want to know more about my first day in Xi’an, click here.

Breakfast Crowne Plaza in Xi’an

After a good breakfast, the second day we strolled on the Xi’an City Wall. The original fortification was built in the 14th century. It is one of the oldest city walls in China. As a tourist you have to pay a small fee to get access to the wall, for the inhabitants of Xi’an it is free, once a month. The wall is in excellent condition; it is even possible to take a bike ride on it.
Biking on City Wall Xian
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The parks and streets next to the wall are actively used for gymnastic exercises, playing music, and singing. Also, there was a colorful market (as you can see in the album). 
Gym in park next to City Wall Xian
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Just before lunch we visited the Muslim Quarter. The streets are full of shops and tiny restaurants. You can get a wide variety of  delicious small snacks. It is a colorful and lively quarter. Next time I need to spend more time in this quarter to visit the mosque as well.
Beiyuanmen Muslim Market in Xian, China
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After lunch at the famous Hai Di Lao Hot Pot Restaurant, I went off to the airport to fly to Beijing to visit Tsinghua University. Xi’an is defintely worth paying a visit.
Here are the pictures of Xian that have been accepted by Dreamstime. I used my general-purpose Nikkor lens: 28-300mm.
And here the street photography pictures I took in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an.
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Sightseeing Xi’an (1)

During my recent visit to China I visited four universities. One of them was NPU, where NPU and the University of Twente signed an agreement about student exchange. Below the official ceremony.

Signing Ceremony NPU

After this ceremony I was lucky to do some sightseeing in Xi’an in the Shaanxi Province with two Chinese friends. During the Zhou dynasty it was the capital of China. First, we visited the Terracotta Army, some 50 km outside the city. It is incredible to imagine that these terracotta soldiers date back to roughly 200 BC, and were only discovered as recent as 1974. These soldiers and animals were buried with the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, to protect him. The Terracotta army is a kind of funerary art.

Terracotta Army in Xian
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Later on in the afternoon we visited the Buddhist Da Ci’en Temple and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. The Buddhist temple is popular; quite a few people burn incense sticks.

 

Buddhist Da Ci’en Temple
Burning incense

 

 
 
 
 

My youngest friend persuaded me to climb the seven story high pagoda. Well, I made it, and took some nice pictures of Xi’an. The first version of the pagoda was built in 652.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

At night it is very nicely lit and close by every evening there is a nice fountain performance with music. The squares in the neighbourhood are crowded with groups performing dances.

Xi’an at night
Dancing in Xi’an

This concludes the first day of my visit to Xi’an. After a good diner at Xi Bei You Mian Cun Restaurant with my friends I went back to my hotel.

Xi Bei You Mian Cun

Look here if you are interested in my second day visiting Xi’an.
Here are the pictures of Xian that have been accepted by Dreamstime. I used my general-purpose Nikkor lens: 28-300mm.
And here are my album of the pictures I took of the Terracotta Army.

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Enjoying The Hague

Political center the Netherlands
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Normally I visit The Hague for business reasons, for example to visit the ministeries. This time it was a short holiday with the family. We stayed in a very nice, spacious apartment of Stayci near the Grote Markt. Every morning we had a luxurious breakfast with Anne&Max near the Saint Jacob Church. It was a real treat. 
It just happened that we walked by an Escher exhibition in the former Winter Palace of Queen Mother Emma in The Hague. M.C. Escher is a famous Dutch graphic artist. Besides his earlier work on sketches of buildings, towns, and landscape when he was in Spain and Italy, he is most famous for his “impossible figures”, like the one below. 

Belvedere

One evening we had a wonderful diner in Restaurant La Passione (Italian cuisine). The food was really exquisite. We will definitely visit this restaurant again. Below you will see the owner preparing my dorade with sea salt crust.

Restaurant La Passione

One museum that is always worthwhile a visit is the Mauritshuis (see bottom, yellow building). They have paintings of, among others, the famous Dutch painters Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Jan Steen. One of their pearls is of course the Girl with a pearl earring of Johannes Vermeer.

Girl with a pearl earring

Strolling through The Hague was really enjoyable. The variety in  architecture gave us the feeling that we were abroad. However, the main reason for going was to show our youngest son the political center of the Netherlands: het Binnenhof, with het Torentje (office of the prime minister; see below), and de Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights, see top).

Political center the Netherlands
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Here are the pictures of The Hague that have been accepted by Dreamstime. I used two Nikkor lenses: 28-300mm and 16-35mm.
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Picturesque Ootmarsum

Saint Simon and Judas Church, Ootmarsum
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Ootmarsum is a picturesque village in the Netherlands near the German border. Besides being a nice village that preserves its history that goes back to 770 quite well, it is also famous for its art/history-related organisations: galeries, museums, and shops. 
My family had friends coming over from abroad. So, we decided to pay a visit to Ootmarsum. We started with the Educatorium; it is a schoolmuseum. It gives a wonderful insight in how classes, teachers,  learning material, books looked like in the early 1900s. On the one hand, quite a lot of things changed, on the other hand, quite a few things are still the same. 
After that we visited the art gallery of Annemiek Punt. She puts layers of coloured pieces of glass on top each other, which in the oven melt, producing a nice colourful composition. She is one of our favourite artists.
From there, we walked to the Gallery of Ton Schulten, a famous Bocage painter. He has produced many colourful pictures of the shapes of the woods and meadows sceneries in Twente. We actually met him with his dog enjoying coffee in a nearby coffee house. 
In the centre of the village there is the Simon and Judas Church, with its nice front gable (see top). At the bottom there is a nice picture of the tower. Here are some more pictures of lovely Ootmarsum. Our friends really enjoyed it.

Saint Simon and Judas Church, Ootmarsum
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Madonna del Sasso, Locarno

Madonna del Sasso and Locarno
Madonna del Sasso and Locarno

Madonna del Sasso is a sanctuary above Locarno. To go there, you need to take a very old, however, well maintained funicular from the city center to the pilgrimage site of Madonna del Sasso. In a short while it takes you a little less than 200 meters higher. From there it is an easy walk to the church.
The church Madonna del Sasso was founded in 1502 on the site where brother Bartolomeo d’Ivrea had a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1480. Because of that it is regarded a pilgrimage site. The church is a nice and quite place to visit. It has some nice spaces at different levels. Also the view of Locarno and of Lago Maggiore is magnificent.

View of Locarno
View of Locarno

I had taken only my general-purpose Nikkor 28-300 mm lens. It gives me the flexibility I need in unexpected situations. Most of the time if I go somewhere where I haven’t been before, and I want to travel light, and I also know there is enough light, I take this lens. Maybe it is not the best lens, however, in combination with my D800 it never let me down. For example, the picture in the church was taken with ISO 5600 and it still looks good.
Here are some of the pictures I have taken. Some of them are also on Dreamstime. Hope you enjoy.
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